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Engaging critically with the literature that views Somaliland as merely another unrecognized state, this paper argues that Somaliland’s achievements, including democratization, cannot be taken to be significantly linked with the quest for international recognition, let alone a direct result of it. In doing so, two arguments are advanced.

By Jamal Abdi

Abstract

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Engaging critically with the literature that views Somaliland as merely another unrecognized state, this paper argues that Somaliland’s achievements, including democratization, cannot be taken to be significantly linked with the quest for international recognition, let alone a direct result of it. In doing so, two arguments are advanced.

Firstly, the design of the Somaliland state, including the building of a democratic hybrid regime and institutionalization of the Guurti, was proposed a decade before the decision to reclaim Somaliland’s sovereignty was made in 1991.

Secondly, the quest for recognition is not universally supported while democracy is universally accepted. Hence, the former cannot explain the latter. Rather than conforming to external normative demands, Somaliland both rejected and defied the so-called international community. Hence, it is concluded that Somaliland is a rather unusual, if not a unique, unrecognized state and that legitimacy in Somaliland is not a matter of balancing external normative demands and internal necessities.

Keys Words: Somaliland, unrecognized States, Legitimacy, Democratization, State-building

Introduction

Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Although Somaliland fulfills the principal criteria for statehood, i.e., boundaries well-defined in international law, a permanent population, and a functioning government that routinely engages in relations with other states and international organizations (Bryden, 2003), it has yet to obtain de jure recognition. By mixing Somali institutions of governance with constitutional democracy and by institutionalizing the former (the Guurti)[1], Somaliland has created an organic and legitimate hybrid state rooted in society (Boege et, al., 2008; Bradbury, 2008; Richards, 2014; Kaplan, 2008). In doing so, Somaliland has transcended the (semi) Weberian OECD-model of statehood and has given birth to the hybrid turn in the peace and state-building literature. Making the Somaliland case unique is that peace and state formation was achieved in a post-civil-war environment without external intervention. Differently put, Somaliland remains the sole known example of successful post-civil-war peacebuilding and state formation characterized by complete local ownership of the political process and design of the state (see e.g., Richards, 2014; Bradbury, 2008; Boege et, al., 2008).  There are various explanations on Somaliland’s success offered in the literature. Some view Somaliland’s state formation through the lenses of the Tillyan model (e.g., Balthasar, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2013; Helling, 2010; Hoehne, 2011; Spears, 2003; Huliras, 2002). Some point to the construction of Somaliland’s hybrid regime (e.g., Boege, et al., 2008). Others emphasize the instrumentalization of culturally specific institutions and methods of conflict resolution (e.g., Jhazbhay, 2003; Walls, 2009; Kaplan, 2008; Bradbury, 2008; Renders, 2010). Finally, a substantial body of scholarship consider Somaliland a de-facto/unrecognized state and reduce peace, stability, and democratization to the quest for international recognition (e.g., Richards, 2014, 2015; Richards & Smith, 2015; Caspersen, 2012; Johnson & Smaker, 2014)[2]. Engaging critically with the literature that considers Somaliland as just another unrecognized state, this essay argues that Somaliland’s achievements, including democratization, cannot be taken to be inextricably linked with the quest for international recognition, let alone a direct result of it. In doing so, this essay advances two arguments. Firstly, the idea of creating a hybrid government with a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper house of experienced and broadly respected moral community leaders (Guurti) and a lower house of representatives was proposed by the SNM[3] in 1981 in their manifesto entitled ‘A Better Alternative’ (Samatar, 1988; Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008). Thus, both the building of a democratic hybrid regime and the idea of institutionalizing the Guurti precede the decision to reclaim Somaliland’s sovereignty with a decade. Hence, it is not reconcilable with reason and logic to assert that democratization is dependent upon the quest for international recognition (Richards, 2014, 2015; Richards & Smith, 2015; Caspersen, 2012; Johnson & Smaker, 2014; Walls & Kibble, 2010) or that institutionalization of the Guurti was an act of necessity as a democratic state that conforms to external normative demands had to be created so as to secure international recognition (Richards, 2014; Richards & Smith, 2015). Secondly, if democratization is inextricably linked to the quest for international recognition or is a direct result of it, then it follows logically that only those who support independence have incentives to embrace democracy. Conversely, if democracy is universally supported while independence is not, then it becomes sound to suggest that the former cannot be explained by the latter. It is far from the entire population in Somaliland that supports independence, while democracy is universally accepted. Hence, the contention that Somaliland, as other unrecognized states, democratized so as to make itself worthy of recognition does not stand logical scrutiny. There is simply no evidence in defense of that contention. Rather than conforming to external demands and expectations, Somaliland intentionally and voluntarily deviated from the norms of the ‘ideal’ state by institutionalizing the Guurti, creating its own state. In doing so, and by rejecting the involvement of the so-called international community in its peace/state-building journey, Somaliland both rejected and defied the so-called international community and its normative preferences. Hence, this essay concludes that Somaliland is a rather unusual, if not a unique, unrecognized state and that legitimacy in Somaliland is not a matter of balancing external expectations and internal necessities as postulated by (Richards, 2014, 2015; Smith & Richards, 2015).

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Background

Somaliland gained independence from British colonial rule on June 26th, 1960 and was recognized as a sovereign state by more than thirty other states when it voluntarily entered into union with Somalia (e.g., Bryden, 2003), that had gained independence from Italy July 1st, 1960. The decade following independence was marked by peace, stability, and a genuine will to build a democratic state. As Abdi Ismail Samatar writes ‘Somalis were able to come together across colonial divides and build a democratic and unitary state of their own, with a progressive constitution to boot’ (Samatar, 2016:125). The nine years between independence in 1960 and 1969, before the military-led by Maxamed Siyad Barre, seized power through a coup d’état, marks a period where Somalia was second to none on the African continent in terms of democracy building and good governance (Samatar, 2016). From the outset, however, northerners felt they were politically and economically marginalized and expressed concern about the centralization of the state and the concentration of investments in the south (Lewis, 1994). While there were some major development projects in the north during the 1960s, such as the expansion of the Berbera port and modernization of the airport in Hargeysa, it is also evident that the development expenditure in the north was less than ten percent of the development expenditure in the south (Jimcaale, 2005). The economic and political marginalization of the north further worsened in the period following the military coup of 1969. For instance, a cement factory in Berbera and an agricultural development project in Gabiley were the only large-scale investment projects in the north during the Barre dictatorship (19691991) (Bradbury, 2008). Historically the economy of the north was predominantly based on livestock trade while the economy of the south was predominately based on agriculture. Export of livestock to countries in the Middle East constituted the backbone of the post-independence Somali economy. Together with animal skins and hides, livestock accounted for more than 80 percent of Somalia’s export earnings and around 90 percent of all Somali livestock was exported through the Berbera port (Brons 2001: 191).  While the northern economy was the backbone of the national economy and the export of livestock contributed with the lion’s share to the total export earnings, the north was economically neglected. The 1987-1989 national development budget, where merely 7% of the planned investments were marked for the north while 41% were allocated for Mogadishu alone (Watson, 1990), exemplifies this neglect and discrimination of the north.

Rise of the SNM

While it is evident that the north was economically marginalized by the Barre government, the latter did indeed enjoy some broad public support and legitimacy during its first decade in power (Lewis, 1994). Eager to liberate the Ogaden region, a historically Somali region which is occupied by Ethiopia, Barre launched an attack on Ethiopia in 1977 (Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008). Initially, the Somali army overran the Ethiopian army with relative ease and was successful in liberating much of the Ogaden region. This success was, however, short-lived as both Cuba and the Soviet Union came to the aid of Ethiopia, leading to the defeat of Somalia in 1978. The euphoria resulting from the initial success of the Ogadeen-war quickly dissolved and the government was blamed for the economic debacle that Somalia experienced because of the war (Bradbury, 2008; Lewis, 1994). The discontent with the government became overt in the post-Ogaden-war period and was concentrated in the north. Rather than accommodating the critique and taking the northern population’s grievances into consideration, the government responded by declaring a state of emergency in 1980.  The government in Mogadishu prohibited the free movement of both civilians and goods (Bradbury, 2008), systematically transferred Issaq officers to the south and armed the Gadaabursi and Dhulbahante communities against the Issaq (Bradbury, 2008; Lewis). The population of Somaliland consists of several genealogically related communities, i.e., the Issa and Gadaabursi (Dir) and Dhulbahante and Warsengeeli (Darood/Harti) and Issaq. The latter is by far the largest of these and accounts for circa 70 percent of the population in Somaliland (Huliras, 2002). The non-Issaq communities were, generally speaking, allied with the government, while the Issaq opposed it and was consequently collectively persecuted (Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008). As Mark Bradbury notes, ‘Extrajudicial executions, rape, confiscations of private property and ‘disappearances’ become commonplace’ (Bradbury, 2008: 60). It was against this backdrop that the Somali National Movement (SNM) was created in 1981 by Somaliland expatriates from respectively Saudi Arabia and the UK[4] (Walls, 2009; Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008. The SNM moved its operation to Ethiopia in 1982 (walls, 2009) and began conducting hit and run attacks on government troops (Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008). In 1987, General Mohamed Said Hersi ‘Morgan’, Siyad Barre’s son-in-law, was appointed military governor to the north and an unprecedented reign of terror was unleashed on the civilian population (Lewis, 1994). Somalia and Ethiopia signed a peace treaty in 1988, which meant that Ethiopia could no longer be a sanctuary for the SNM. In May 1988, the SNM launched a do or die attack on Hargeysa and Burco5 (Bradbury, 2008). Determined to break the will of the SNM and its supporters, the government responded by indiscriminately bombing both cities, killing 50.000 civilians, and forcing another 500.000 to seek refuge in Ethiopia (Bradbury, 2008). Rather than breaking the will of the SNM, the indiscriminate bombings of Somaliland’s two largest cities increased the legitimacy of the SNM (Walls, 2009). From 1988, the SNM fought an all-out war against the government troops, leading to the defeat of the latter in January 1991 (Lewis, 1994).

Post-war Peacebuilding and State-formation

Immediately after the government troops were defeated, the SNM leadership, rather than seeking revenge, sent some of its commanders and respected moral community leaders (Guurti) throughout Somaliland to prevent retributive acts against those who had supported the government (Richards, 20014). Establishing peace was of primary concern in the immediate post-war period. Consequently, the SNM invited all of Somaliland’s communities to a series of inter-community conferences (Shir Beeleed) (Walls, 2009). While the SNM made the initial effort to instigate the process of peace and reconciliation, it is important to stress that the SNM allowed for the universally respected and experienced moral community leaders (Guurti) to lead the peace process (Richards, 2014).  The first inter-community conference was held in February 1991 in the ancient port city of Berbera. It was at this conference that peace was reached, and it was additionally agreed that another conference should be held at Burco later the same year (Walls, 2009).  It was at the Burco conference, or the Grand Brotherhood Conference of the Northern Communities (Shirweynaha Walaalaynta Beeleha Waqooyiga), that Somaliland’s independence was declared on May 18th, 1991 (Walls, 2009). An interim government was subsequently set up where Abdirahman Ahmed Ali ‘Tuur’, Chairman of the SNM, was appointed president (Bradbury, 2008). Another conference was held at Sheekh in December 1992 (Bradbury, 2008). The primary reason for holding the Sheekh conference was that violence had broken out earlier the same year. The purpose of this conference was, therefore, to ‘agree the terms on which future conflicts would be resolved’ (Walls, 2009: 382). While the Sheekh conference put an end to the conflicts of 1992, several issues remained unsolved, including matters of power haring, transition to civilian democratic rule, drafting of an institution and strengthening of the administrative apparatus of the state (Bradbury, 2008). Finding a solution to these issues was therefore top priority at the Borama conference which commenced in the city of Borama on January 24th, 1993, and was chaired by the Guurti (Bradbury, 2008). The Borama conference ended in May 1993 and, in terms of securing continued peaceful coexistence, the conference produced the ‘Somaliland communities Security and Peace Charter’ (Axdiga Nabadgalyada ee Beelaha Soomaalilaand). It was also at the Borama Conference that the first version of Somaliland’s hybrid system of governance, i.e., the Beel system, was implemented (Bradbury, 2008). Remarkably, the SNM had voluntarily dissolved itself in 1991 and, at the Borama conference, the interim administration led by Abdirahman Ahmed Ali ‘Tuur’ was replaced by a civilian democratic administration. This peaceful handover of power to civilian democratic rule is, in fact, unprecedented in postcolonial African history (Hoehne, 2011). Maxamed Xaaji Ibraahim Cigaal was elected president of the new government mainly because he was experienced and broadly respected (Hoehne, 2011). Apart from the election of Cigaal as president, all decisions were reached by consensus at the Borama conference (Bradbury, 2008), stressing that collective action was feasible both within and between communities as it has historically been in Somali society (see Abdi, 2021). The Hargeysa conference, which began in October 1996 and ended in February 1997, marks the last grand conference on Somaliland’s road to peace (Bradbury, 2008). The rationale for holding the Hargeysa conference, which proved to be another watershed event, is that conflict broke out in Hargeysa in November 1995 (Bradbury, 2008). The root of this conflict was control of the Hargeysa airport and was a struggle between urbanized elites rather than being an inter community conflict (Bradbury, 2008). Cessation of hostilities, creation of a special fund for the purpose of rebuilding Burco, and allocation of seats in parliament for minority communities were achieved at the Hargeysa conference[6] (Bradbury, 2008). While an interim constitution was drafted and adopted during the conference, it took another four years to transition from the community-based Beel-system to constitutional multi-party democracy (Bradbury, 2008). A final constitution was accepted through a referendum on May 31, 2001, followed by a series of elections. The first of these being the district council elections in December 2002, followed by presidential elections in 2003 and finally parliamentary elections in September 2005 (Bradbury, 2008).

Unrecognized States 

According to Nina Caspersen, for an entity to be considered an unrecognized state, it must have achieved de facto independence, its leadership must be seeking to build further state institutions and demonstrate its own legitimacy, the entity has sought, but not achieved, international recognition and finally, only those unrecognized entities that have existed for at least two years can be considered unrecognized states (Caspersen, 2012)[7]. Thus, unrecognized states are those entities that have achieved de facto independence but continue to lack de jure recognition (Caspersen, 2012). They are not full members of the international society of sovereign-states but often exhibit all the characteristics of statehood apart from international recognition of sovereignty (Richards & Smith, 2015). Due to their lack of recognition, unrecognized states are compelled to exist in the shadows of International Relations (Caspersen, 2012), where they are not protected by the same international legal frameworks as are sovereign states (Richardson & Smith, 2015). Lack of recognition denies them access to conventional funding channels, leaving them little choice but to rely heavily on their own internal resources, diaspora communities or a supportive patron state (Kolsto, 2006; Caspersen, 2012). Gaining full recognition is the raison d’etre of unrecognized states (Caspersen, 2012) as this is their best chance for survival (Kolsto, 2006). There are several reasons why unrecognized states face great difficulty in gaining de jure recognition, including the fact they often do not meet the criteria for the very restrictive right of self-determination and that parent states normally refuse to approve their right to secede (Caspersen, 2012). The question of recognition is, however, very central in unrecognized states and informs policy and statebuilding to such extent that statehood in these entities is negotiated in view of external development (Caspersen, 2012). Unrecognized states continuously attempt to conform to the normative preferences and values of external audiences in order to increase their chances for recognition. As Caspersen puts it ‘unrecognized statehood is therefore in some ways reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland: state identities are in flux and the entities are continuously trying to catch up with the white rabbit that is the international community (Caspersen, 2012: 52). In this view, unrecognized states are essentially goal-rational systems. It is the quest for recognition that legitimates the state, it further constitutes the social glue that unites people around the same cause, which in turn provides the ruling body with insulation from popular dissatisfaction (Caspersen, 2012).  As Richards & Smith (2015) write, ‘The space of non-recognition relies on the continued momentum of the project for recognition. The ruling body is supported because of its quest for recognition but in turn, it must reassure the populace that progress towards this goal is being made’ (Richards & Smith, 2015: 1726). Realizing that claims to a territory, a distinctive national identity, and past grievances were not successful in securing recognition, unrecognized states changed their strategy by the mid-1990s, where they began emphasizing their achievements in terms of state-building and democratization (Caspersen, 2012). Currently, unrecognized states stress not merely their capacity to govern but also their ability and willingness to embrace hegemonic international values, e.g., liberal democracy (Caspersen, 2012).  

Somaliland as an Unrecognized State

By treating Somaliland merely as another unrecognized state and by arguing that unrecognized states democratize because of the quest for recognition, Caspersen (2012) indirectly reduces democracy in Somaliland to a strategy, making the democratic design of the Somaliland state dependent upon the quest for recognition. This line of reasoning is echoed by Johnson & Smaker (2014) who explicitly reduce democracy in Somaliland to the quest for recognition by arguing that ‘commitment to independent statehood by the political leaders and a large portion of Somaliland’s population, including the business community, has helped the state secure financial support and has created pressure on political leaders to provide stability and democratic institutions as a means of securing recognition’ (Johnson & Smaker, 2014: 12). They further argue that:

International recognition may not be the panacea that Somaliland’s population expects. The region faces many economic, social and political issues that will not disappear with recognition, which may bring its own challenges. If Somaliland secures recognition, the people may no longer be mobilized by a shared goal, allowing internal divisions to remerge. International recognition would no longer serve as a carrot encouraging politicians to moderate their behavior (Johnson & Smaker, 2014: 12).

We are, according to Johnson and Smaker (2014), asked to believe that Somaliland is essentially a goal-rational system and that international recognition is the ultimate goal, explaining everything positive in Somaliland, including democracy, peace, stability and legitimacy. The quest for recognition is, in other words, the glue that holds Somaliland together. It moderates the behavior of politicians and puts pressure on them to democratize and generally adhere to ‘good governance. Somaliland is therefore not peaceful, stable, and democratic because of the prudence and providence of civilians and political leaders but rather because of the quest for international recognition. On a similar note, Richards (2015; 2014) reduce democracy, legitimacy, peace, stability, and even the motivation for continuing what she calls the state-building ‘process’ in Somaliland to the quest for international recognition. According to Richards, Somaliland is governed by a dual faceted hybrid regime as it ‘is inclusive of both familiar traditional governance and modern democratic government, but it also reflects hybridity in balancing domestic needs and external demands in the state-building process and the state’ (Richards, 2015: 11). The logic here is that Somaliland is a goal-rational system, the state maintains its domestic support by complying with external expectations and demands so as to further the chances for securing de jure recognition. By complying with external demands and thus maintaining its internal legitimacy, the Somaliland state is, according to Richards, balancing internal and external legitimacy. The main way in which external demands are met is through democratization, and the state is legitimate due to expectations of recognition (Richards, 2014, 2015). In this view, the democratic design of the Somaliland state is merely a strategy. As Richards writes, ‘because of its inability to access international structures and institutions that are reserved for sovereign states, achieving recognition of statehood has become a primary goal of the government in the territory, with the creation of a democratic state at the center of Somaliland’s strategy’ (Richards, 2014: 13). If the legitimacy of the state in Somaliland hinges upon the ability to balance internal and external demands, it follows logically that democracy must be an external demand. If democracy is an internal demand, it becomes evident that Somaliland did not adopt democracy in an attempt to please the so-called international community, making the institutionalization of the Guurti an act of defiance rather than an act of necessity as postulated by Richards (2014) who writes, ‘Without the inclusion of this traditional element from the beginning of the process, the territory would not exhibit the level of peace and stability that exists today; and without peace and stability the introduction of a modern, yet foreign, the democratic governing structure would have encountered significant difficulties (Richards, 2014: 14). We are in other words asked to believe that state builders in Somaliland, from the beginning, designed the state so as to reflect both internal needs external demands. The Guurti was institutionalized so as to create the domestic legitimacy needed to create the peace and stability that is required to build a democratic state that conforms to the norms of the ‘ideal’ state. In other words, Somaliland is yet another unrecognized state, democracy is the result of meeting external demands and the very legitimacy of the government hinges on its ability and willingness to pursue recognition and demonstrate that progress is made towards that goal (see Richards & Smith, 2015; Richards, 2014,2015). As is discussed in the following section, the hybrid regime in Somaliland, including the institutionalization of the Guurti, was proposed by the SNM in 1981, a decade before the decision to reclaim Somaliland’s sovereignty was made at the Burco conference in 1991. Consequently, democracy in Somaliland cannot be reduced to a strategy adopted to secure international recognition. Since the desire to institutionalize the Guurti precedes the quest for international recognition, it appears logical to suggest that institutionalization of the Guurti was deliberate deviance from the norms of the ‘ideal’ state rather than an act of necessity as postulated by (Richards & Smith, 2015; and Richards, 2014).

Democracy: An Internal Demand

In October 1981, the SNM published a manifesto entitled ‘A Better Alternative‘ in which they laid down their political vision for a post-Barre [8] Somali society (Lewis, 1994). The stated objective of the SNM was to overthrow the Barre government and reinstitute democracy in all of Somalia (Lewis, 1994). The SNM manifesto proposed that a post Barre society should be governed by a hybrid regime, where the Xeer system would be elevated to the national level and where Somali institutions of governance should be included within the central state structure (Samatar, 1988). Thus, the idea of creating a hybrid government with a bicameral legislature consisting of an upper house of experienced and broadly respected moral community leaders (Guurti) and a lower house of representatives was conceived in 1981. Rather than secession, the SNM envisaged a decentralized state structure with five regions, each with its own administration (Lewis, 1994). Prior to the Burco Conference in 1991, the SNM maintained that its objectives were to overthrow Siyad Barre and reinstitute democracy (Lewis, 1994).  In fact, the SNM explicitly opposed any division that could prove detrimental to the unity of the country (Bradbury, 2008). Even by the time of the Burco conference, the Central Committee of the SNM continued opposing the declaration of independence, believing that secession would not be received well by the so-called international community (Drysdale, 1992). The preceding gains credence by the fact that the SNM, shortly before the Burco conference, sent a delegation to Mogadishu with the aim of negotiating a more equitable sharing of power and resources (Bradbury, 2008). After having ousted Siyad Barre from Mogadishu in 1991 the United Somali Congress (USC), without due consultation with representatives of the northern population, announced the establishment of a central state in Mogadishu (Lewis, 1994). For many northerners, the USC’s unilateral establishment of a ‘national’ government in Mogadishu was reminiscent of tendencies witnessed during the Barre era, leading the public to demand that Somaliland cuts political ties with Mogadishu. Rather than going against popular opinion and demand, representatives of the different communities in Somaliland declared independence on May 18th, 1991 (Lewis, 1994; Bradbury, 2008). Since independence was not entertained by the SNM or any other political/military organization prior to the Burco conference, it appears evident that the SNM’s initial decision to refrain from seeking retribution against those who had supported the Barre government cannot be explained by the quest for recognition[9]. As discussed above, Johnson & Smaker (2014) assert that the quest for recognition serves as a carrot moderating the behavior of politicians. If so, what explains the SNM’s decision to put an end to retribution rather than sanctioning it? If not the quest for recognition, is it not sound to suggest that the SNM’s decision to refrain from seeking revenge suggests a genuine will to peacefully coexist and is it not clear that such will is independent of the quest for international recognition? Moreover, how can democracy be the result of the quest for international recognition if democracy is what the SNM wanted for a post Siyad Barre Somali society? As discussed above, the decision to secede was made during the Burco conference in 1991, while the SNM adhered to democracy from its inception. As Mark Bradbury notes, the National Charter, produced at the Borama conference, indeed ‘reflected much of what was proposed in the SNM’s manifesto for post-Barre government: a government built on Somali cultural values; the elevation of Xeer to the national level: and the incorporation of elders into a two-chamber legislature’ (Bradbury, 2008: 100). It bears mention that (Johnson & Smaker, 2014; Caspersen, 2012; Walls & Kibble, 2010) site Bradbury (2008) who discusses the SNM’s manifesto extensively. Yet all omitted mentioning that one of the SNM’s stated objectives was to reinstitute democracy and build a hybrid regime. Unlike the above-mentioned authors, Richards (2014,2015) concedes that democracy is what the SNM thought was best for a post-Barre Somali society, but maintains that democracy, legitimacy, peace, and stability in Somaliland is largely due to the quest for independence, making her theory an endless maze of logical inconsistency and contradictions.

Somaliland: A Unique Unrecognized State

Within the scope of two pages (116-117), in her book entitled Understanding Statebuilding: Traditional Governance and the Modern State in Somaliland, Rebecca Richards provides three different interpretations on the nexus between the quest for international recognition and democracy in Somaliland. First, she writes that:

From the beginning, the process of state-building in Somaliland has been propelled by a group of self-socialized elites within the territory who push for compliance with the norms of statehood that are seen as necessary for the recognition, but who also strive to ensure that the state being created reflects the needs of Somaliland. The result of this is the hybrid reconciliation between the ‘old’ Somali governance and the ‘new’ liberal democratic practices in the Somaliland government; a reconciliation that also works to balance the demands between the external and the internal (Richards, 2014: 116).

This is essentially Richards’ ‘dual hybridity’ theory (see Richards, 2015, 2014) in a nutshell where Somaliland is merely another unrecognized state that conforms to external demands so as to secure international recognition. According to this perspective, as discussed above, democracy is an external demand whose presence in Somaliland is contingent upon the quest for international recognition. On the same page, however, Richards seemingly contradicts her own theory by writing that ‘As the intention of the SNM was not the creation of an independent state in Somaliland, though, it can be assumed that democratic government was not proffered to appease the international community but was instead was what the SNM leadership thought was best for Somalia’ (Richards, 2014: 116). Since democracy was part of the plan from the beginning and is thus independent of the quest for international recognition, the question must be raised of which element of the design of the Somaliland state that ought to be considered an external demand. If democracy is an internal demand and is independent of the quest for international recognition, it cannot simultaneously be asserted that Somaliland is governed by a ‘dual’ hybrid regime and that legitimacy is a matter of balancing internal necessities and external demands. Given the high level of congruence between what state builders in Somaliland desired a decade before independence was declared in 1991 and the democratic hybrid state that was subsequently built, it appears reasonable to suggest that the quest for international recognition has little, if any, explanatory power in relation to state-building in Somaliland. Again, which element of the design of the Somaliland state can be considered a result of conforming to external demands if not a democracy? Having contradicted her own theory by conceding that adherence to democracy preceded the quest for international recognition, Richards claims that ‘regardless of the initial motivations, however, with recognition being the primary objective and with a connection being made between the style of government and recognized statehood, the push for continued democratization cannot be separated from the quest to be a legally recognized state’[10] (Richards, 2014: 117). In 1999 Maxamed Xaaji Ibraahim Cigaal, Somaliland’s second president, linked the transition to multiparty democracy to the quest for international recognition by declaring that adopting multiparty democracy is necessary for securing de jure recognition (Bradbury, 2008). According to Bradbury (2008), however, there are other reasons explaining Somaliland’s transition from community-based governance (Beel-system) to multi-party democracy. While the Beel system11 had brought peace and stability to Somaliland, it also brought its own challenges. One problem with the Beel system was that women had no representation in government, marginalized minority communities, such as the Gaboye, felt underrepresented and people in the rural areas felt that the central state in Hargeysa was dominated by the urban population. Hence, adopting multi-party democracy was a solution to thorny issues of representation, equity and decentralization (Bradbury, 2008). Ignoring the preceding, (Richards, 2014, 2015; Johnson & Smaker, 2014) assert that multi-party democracy is the result of meeting external normative demands. As Richards (2014), writes ‘the crux of meeting normative demands and creating the hybrid state in Somaliland was the introduction of a multiparty democratic system (Richards, 2014: 116). While it is evident that Somaliland, in its endeavor to secure recognition, emphasizes its extraordinary achievements in terms of peace/state building and democratization, it appears equally evident that democracy in Somaliland cannot be reduced to a strategy. Put differently, there is hardly any evidence in defense of the contention that democracy in Somaliland, regardless of form and type, is in any significant way linked to the quest for independence, let alone a direct result of it. The evidence strongly suggests that Somaliland would have been democratic even if the quest to be a legally recognized state was not desired. It appears rather difficult to reconcile the idea that Somaliland, like other unrecognized states, democratized so as to make itself worthy of recognition with that democracy is universally accepted. If democratic governance, including its current form, is in any significant way linked to the quest for international recognition, it follows logically that only those who support independent statehood support, accept and embrace democracy. The Somaliland state has yet to penetrate the entire country and there are in fact areas which it does not control, and it is far from the entire population that supports the quest for independent statehood. The preceding is recognized by Richards (2014) who writes ‘there are regions in the territory that reject their inclusion in the Somaliland project, and there is dissatisfaction, largely amongst the minority clans (Richards, 2014: 179). Yet there is not a single known example of any individual or a group of people who have ever expressed any type or form of discontent with democracy. Nobody, including the religious communities, has ever made a case against Somaliland because of democracy. Is it not in line with logic and reason to suggest that democracy in Somaliland cannot be explained by the quest for independent statehood if the former is universally accepted while the latter is not universally supported? If those who support independent statehood are incentivized by the end-goal, why then are those who do not support independent statehood not rejecting democracy? Critically, one could content that fear constitutes a plausible explanation as to why those who do not support independent statehood do not openly and publicly criticize and reject democracy. Firstly, there are countless examples of people demonstrating against, corruption, abuse of power, mismanagement of resources, etc., strongly suggesting that fear of the government is not necessarily a strong deterrent. Secondly, there are areas where the legitimacy of the Somaliland state is rejected. In these areas, e.g., Buhoodle[12], the state has no power. Why are people in these areas not voicing their discontent with democracy if the latter is not universally accepted? Even if we entertain the idea that there are many people in Somaliland who oppose democracy but are too fearful to openly express themselves, it exceeds the realm of logic and reason to assume that each and every one of them allows fear to limit their freedom.

Democracy: A Somali Value

The literature that views Somaliland as merely another unrecognized state (e.g. Caspersen, 2012, Smith & Richards, 2015; Johnson & Smaker, 2014; Richards, 2014, 2015), implicitly assumes that political leaders and civilians in Somaliland are either unwilling or incapable of embracing democracy on their own  without external incentives or that Somali culture and values are somehow incompatible with democratic governance, necessitating the development of an alternative explanation in relation to the existence of democracy in Somaliland, i.e. conformity to external demands. If democracy was considered an internal demand, independent of the quest for international recognition, the very linkage between democratization and the quest for independent statehood appears rather superfluous. By arguing that democratization is inextricably linked to the quest for independence or even a direct result of it, one is indeed asserting that democracy would have most likely not been adopted had it not been for the quest for independence. That state builders in Somaliland desired democracy a decade before the declaration of independence coupled with that democracy is universally accepted while the quest for independent statehood is not universally supported, challenges the implicit assumption in the literature that treats Somaliland as an unrecognized state. In fact, adherence to democratic governance is not restricted to Somaliland but is also to be found in other parts of Somalia that are not seeking independent statehood. The semi-autonomous region of Puntland is one such example. According to its constitution, ‘Puntland is an independent Regional Government of Somalia based on the system of idea sharing, democracy and multiparty system’ (Puntland Constitution, 2012: 3). Democratization in Puntland appears to be a bottom-up demand rather than an elite-driven top-down phenomenon. Rather than being the main drivers behind democratization, the elites’ participation in politics on the national level partly explains the region’s slow democratization (ICG, 2013).  As evidenced by a study conducted by the Somali Institute for Development of Research Analysis, there is widespread support for democratization in Puntland among the population as 83 percent are either willing or somewhat willing to support Puntland’s democratization process, while merely 9 percent say they are unlikely to support the process[13] (SIDRA, 2016). A paramount difference between Somaliland and Puntland is that while the former actively seeks independent statehood, the latter has yet not expressed any aspirations of secession and there is no credible evidence suggesting that it will do so in the future. If democratization in Somaliland is inextricably linked to the quest for independence (e.g., Johnson & Smaker, 2014; Richards, 2014, 2015; Smith & Richards, 2015; Walls & Kibble, 2010; Caspersen, 2012) and the crux of meeting normative demands and creating a hybrid state in Somaliland was the introduction of a multiparty democratic system (Richards, 2014), the question must be raised of what explains the support for democracy in Puntland? If democracy in Puntland is an internal demand, independent of the objective of obtaining recognition of sovereignty, is it not possible that also adherence to democracy and the multi-party system is an internal demand in Somaliland? The population in Somaliland and Puntland share the same culture, history, religion, belong to the same race, and speak the same language. Differently put, there is virtually nothing that distinguishes Somalis in Puntland from their fellow Somalis in Somaliland.  As previously asserted, the nine years following independence (1960-1969) is a period where Somalia was second to none on the African continent in terms of democracy building and good governance (Samatar, 2016). There were several free elections held during this period, e.g., the 1963 municipal election and the parliamentary elections of 1964 (Samatar, 2016). Desire to obtain recognition can logically not explain the adoption of and support for democratic governance in the post-independence period, suggesting that support for democratic governance was indeed genuine. As Aden A. Osman, Somalia’s first president, said less than a month before leaving office, ‘Without democracy nothing good can happen’ (Samatar, 2016: 214). As observed by Abdi Ismail Samatar ‘ June 10, 1967, marked the first time in modern African political history in which a democratically elected president was defeated in an election, gave up power with dignity, and walked away freely as an adored citizen’ (Samatar, 2016: 184). To accept that Somaliland is just another unrecognized state, democratizing because of the quest for international recognition, implies that we must accept that Somali people cannot or will not accept and adopt democratic governance in the absence of external incentives. If one follows this line of reasoning, it becomes rather difficult to explain support for and adoption of democracy in Puntland and in post-independence Somalia (1960-1969). That democratic governance, including the multi-party system, is widely supported in Puntland while the region does not pursue recognition of sovereignty, clearly suggests that also contemporary Somalis are both capable of and willing to embrace democratic governance without external incentives. There is hardly any evidence suggesting that democracy is incompatible with Somali culture and values. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that democracy on the normative level is a Somali value as much as it is a Western value. Throughout the literature on Somaliland, democracy is considered alien to Somali(land) society, and the governing hybrid regime in Somaliland is often viewed as one that bridges Somali governance and ‘Western’ democracy. Mary Hope Schwoebel, for instance, writes that ‘While Somaliland’s leaders have appropriated some “imported” Western systems of governance and its accompanying practices and discourses, these are also part of their culture. This is so because of Somaliland’s history of British occupation, and because many of its leaders and citizens have lived in and/or been educated in Western countries, particularly England’ (Schwoebel, 2018: 2018). While Schwoebel concedes that democracy is part of Somali culture, we are asked to believe that democracy is partly a legacy of colonialism and the result of Somalis returning home from abroad, bringing knowledge of democratic governance and values home. This assertion is both erroneous and misleading and conceals the fact that pre-colonial Somali society was governed by a democratic regime (Xeer), making democracy an integral part of Somali culture. Precolonial Somali society constitutes the sole known large society where social order was obtained by voluntary agreement and consent among individuals in society. Man’s life, liberty, and estate was, in other words, guaranteed in the absence of formal hierarchy and authority, capable of exercising coercive power. Obtainment of social order by voluntary agreement and consent was enabled by the Xeer system which is both a regime and a normative order, providing a moral and normative framework for co-existence. Values and principles such as justice, tolerance, inclusion, equality, and consensus constitute(ed) the building blocks of the Xeer regime (see Abdi, 2021). All adult men were allowed equal access to processes of collective decision-making and all major decisions were normally reached by voluntary agreement. Thus, democratic values, practices, and principles are far from alien to Somali culture and society, which was governed by a democratic regime (Xeer) centuries before a so-called liberal democracy had emerged on the European continent, questioning the widely held belief that Somaliland is governed by a regime that bridges Somali and ‘Western’ systems of governance. A rather foundational implicit assumption in the literature that reduces Somaliland’s achievements to the quest for international recognition is that Somalis are not capable of producing a peaceful, stable, and democratic society without external incentives moderating the behavior of politicians and civilians. Such view is rather difficult to reconcile with the fact that pre-colonial Somali society remains the sole known large society to have ever obtained social order by voluntary agreement and consent. If peace, stability, inclusion, and democracy in contemporary Somaliland is contingent upon the quest for international recognition, what then explains peace, stability, and democratic governance in pre-colonial Somali society? Critically, one could fairly assert that the context has changed. However, it is widely accepted that the Xeer regime has survived both colonialism and twenty years of military dictatorship based on scientific socialism. In fact, a substantial body of scholarship brings attention to the instrumentalization of the different components of the Xeer regime, e.g., Shiir and Guurti councils, in explaining Somaliland’s success (Walls, 2009; Boege et al., 2008; Jhazbhay, 2003; Kaplan, 2008; Bradbury, 2008; Renders, 2010). Erroneous assumptions and conclusions could have been avoided had the authors that reduce Somaliland’s achievements to the quest for international recognition conducted research in Somaliland with the aim of mapping the motivations of state builders, e.g., in relation to the implementation of democracy and institutionalization of the Guurti. When Rebecca Richards was directly asked about this, she simply replied ‘Do you honestly think people would tell the truth’.[14]

Conclusion

Using Somaliland as a case study, Rebecca Richards has formulated an intriguing and fascinating theory on legitimacy in unrecognized states (see e.g., Richards, 2014, 2015; Richards & Smith 2015). According to Richards ‘Within self-led state-building projects, a balance must be reached between external expectations and internal necessities. In doing so, a duality of legitimacy is created; external legitimacy as an acceptable state, and internal legitimacy that, in domestically-led state-building, is vital for sustaining the process’ (Richards, 2014: 60). When applied to Somaliland, however, Richards’s theory has no explanatory power. The design of the Somaliland state, including the building of a democratic hybrid regime and institutionalization of the Guurti, was proposed in 1981 (e.g., Samatar, 1988; Bradbury, 2008; Lewis, 1994), while the decision to reclaim Somaliland’s sovereignty was made in May 1991. Consequently, there is not a single element of the design of the Somaliland state that can be taken as an expression of conforming to external demands. Hence, it appears logical that legitimacy in Somaliland may not be a matter of balancing external expectations and internal necessities by conforming to external demands and sustaining the process from within by pursuing formal recognition of statehood. Even if we ignore that the design of the Somaliland state precedes the declaration of independence with a decade, one cannot ignore that the desire to obtain de jure recognition is not universally supported while democracy is universally accepted. The preceding reveals that the quest for international recognition has no significant explanatory power in Somaliland. If we are to accept that the crux of meeting normative demands and creating a hybrid state in Somaliland was the introduction of a multiparty democratic system (Richards, 2014), one must explain why those who do not support the quest for recognition embrace and accept democracy. The fact that they do, strongly suggests that democracy is universally accepted and is thus independent of the quest for formal recognition. If unrecognized states are similar to Alice in Wonderland, chasing the white rabbit that is the international community (see Caspersen, 2012) and legitimacy is a matter of balancing internal necessities and external expectations (see e.g., Richards, 2014, 2015; Richards & Smith 2015), it appears evident that Somaliland is unusual, if a not a unique, unrecognized state. Upon the collapse of the Barre government, the international community, under the guise of the United Nations, reached out to leaders in Somaliland who declined the help offered by the UN and asked the latter to stay out of Somaliland. In doing so, the leaders of Somaliland rejected internationally led mediation and reconstruction efforts, displaying a high level of cultural self-efficacy by relying on methods of conflict reconciliation and resolution within the framework of the Xeer system (see Richards, 2014). Rather than conforming to external demands and expectations, Somaliland intentionally and voluntarily deviated from the norms of the ‘ideal’ state by institutionalizing the Guurti, creating its own state. In a nutshell, Somaliland both rejected and defied the so-called international community and its normative preferences. Hence, it is beyond the realm of logic and reason to suggest that the state-building process in Somaliland is characterized by normative interventionism (see Richards, 2014, 2015). Finally, those who assert that state-building in Somaliland is not an exception (e.g., Renders, 2012; Hoehne & Ibrahim, 2014; Richards, 2015, 2014) must identify another case in which peace, stability, an inclusive state, and democracy has been achieved in a post-civil-war environment without external intervention in the political process.

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Notes

[1] The Guurti is a council consisting of skillful, experienced, broadly respected and meritocratically selected moral community leaders.

[2] Rebecca Richards goes as far as to postulate that ‘In Somaliland, the state is arguably a political process rather than a governing entity and the government is a tangible reflection of this process’ (Richards, 2015: 9).

[3] The Somali National Movement (SNM) was a resistance group that against the Government from 1981-1991.

[4] As is discussed later, the SNM’s initial goal was not to reclaim Somaliland’s independence but rather to overthrow the Barre government and institute democracy in all of Somalia (Samatar, 1988; Lewis, 1994).

[5] Hargeysa is Somaliland’s capital and Burco is the second-largest city.

[6] There were a series of other regional reconciliation conferences held throughout Somaliland. For an overview of these see (Bradbury, 2008).

[7] see also ( Kolsto, 2006; Pegg, 1998 for similar definitions).

[8] Siyad Barre was a dictator who ruled Somalia from 1960-1991.

[9] It is imperative to stress that the government troops were defeated in January 1991, while the decision to reclaim Somaliland’s sovereignty was made in May 1991.

[10] In the conclusion chapter, Richards returns to her initial interpretations and writes ‘How long can the political leaders continue to justify their actions based on the promise of recognition? How long can the state be held together on the basis that peace and political change are necessary for the ultimate goal?’ (Richards, 2014, 179).

[11] The Beel system was adopted at the Borama Conference in 1993 (see e.g., Bradbury, 2008).

[12] Buhoodle is a region in Somaliland, mainly inhabited by the Daraood/Harti community. The Somaliland state has no authority in Buhoodle and other regions in the eastern part of Somaliland.

[13] It is imperative to stress that those who do not support the democratization process are referring to the specific process and not necessarily democracy itself. Conversely, it seems logical to assume that those who support democratization also support democracy more generally.

[14] This reply was given by Rebecca Richards in a Ph.D. supervision meeting in April 2020 where she was the principal supervisor of the present author. Dr. Richards was, at the meeting, informed that the author would write this paper and quote her.

 

Jamal Abdi,

Ph.D. candidate – International Relations

School of Politics, International Relations, and Philosophy

Keele University 

Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, United Kingdom

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